There are many things for which we can condemn the Liberal Party
of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Right now the one that
comes to mind is the tragic possibility that their apparent corruption
could lead Canadians to be so distracted they would bring to power
a party led by a man who would try to undo everything Canadians
actually support. If Canadians fail to remember what Stephen Harper
stands for they could end up trading a government tainted by past
corruption for a government run by the Grim Reaper of Canadian politics.
After years of indulging himself in his visceral contempt for what
Canada is and has been, Harper seems finally to have learned to
keep his true feelings to himself. He no longer openly expresses
the disdain for the country he says he wants to govern. But as the
polls suggest he might be within striking distance of the Liberals,
it seems like a good time to remind people just what kind of earth-scorching
government we could get with this man and his not-so-new party.
Harper is not a man who readily changes his views and it has long
been his conviction that he has a duty to reshape Canada regardless
of what its citizens want. When he joined the Reform Party in the
late 1980s he demonstrated his scorn for the so-called "grass
roots" of the party, telling a reporter that policies coming
from the "bottom-up" were "simple and low quality."
And the main source of his admiration for Preston Manning was the
leader's uncanny ability to get Reform members to abandon some of
their passionately-held beliefs: "It's amazing what you can
persuade them (party members) to do once you convince them it's
the leader who is telling them."
Virtually all of the policies of the Reform Party were written
by Preston Manning and Stephen Harper. They included the elimination
of the Canada Health Act, draconian immigration policies, massive
decentralization to eliminate universality in social programs, and
huge cuts to federal funding for such programs. While they were
never the government, the party provided both pressure and support
for Paul Martin's radical restructuring of the country's finances
and social legislation.
Harper was well aware of the party's role in taking the country
backwards. In a speech to the National Citizens Coalition while
still MP for Calgary West, Harper assessed Reform's influence, boasting
"the Liberal government in Ottawa has announced... no new major
social spending programs. Universality has been severely reduced:
It is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy.
The family allowance program has been eliminated and unemployment
insurance has been seriously cut back."
Harper left the Reform Party in 1997 over strategic differences
with Manning. It is very revealing of the man's politics that he
took the position of president of the National Citizens' Coalition
(NCC) - the most ferociously right-wing lobby group in the country.
Founded originally to fight public medicare, the NCC was Reform's
soul-mate. Harper praised the organization because it "criticizes,
attacks and gives alternatives to such things as official multiculturalism,
enforced national bilingualism, a pro-criminal justice system, anti-family
social policies, open door immigration..."
It is ironic, given Harper's outrage over a political scandal involving
corporate money, that he spent much of his time at the NCC in a
successful court challenge of federal election finance reform. The
reform (now in place) would have prevented corporations from contributing
to political parties. While no law can guarantee corruption will
end, the law Harper fought so hard against - he dismissed it as
a "gag law" - would arguably have reduced the opportunities
and changed the political culture.
But it was an article in the National Post a few days after
the 2000 election that exposed the real Stephen Harper. In the article,
Harper revealed his admiration for free-enterprise Alberta and his
contempt for the rest of Canada: "Canada appears content to
become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly
about its ...social services to mask its second-rate status."
There is nothing on the public record to suggest Stephen Harper
has changed his radical views. He just has been much more careful
about expressing them. The Conservative leader is a man totally
enamoured with the U.S. - who supported the Iraq war and ballistic
missile defence (despite his coyness), admires George Bush, detests
social programs and the equality principle which drives them, and
is a proud believer in America's culture of possessive individualism.
As such he is more at odds with Canadians' values than any national
party leader in 60 years.
Handing over the reigns of government to a man who has contempt
for his own country would be a catastrophic mistake. Scandal or
no scandal, Canadians need to keep their eyes on the prize: the
future of their country.
Murray Dobbin is the author of Paul Martin: CEO for Canada? This
column has appeared in The Tyee.